Would a move to May be the best thing for the PGA?

RSS

Earlier this month in Maui, incoming PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked what the advantages would be if the PGA Championship moved from its current spot on the calendar, August, to May.

Shifting the PGA to an earlier date has become a water cooler topic ever since Monahan introduced the idea of a dramatically remade Tour schedule that ends before Labor Day and features a more condensed major championship season.

It was one of the few items Monahan was asked that he deferred an answer.

“I think that would be a question for Pete [Bevacqua] to answer,” Monahan said.

Bevacqua is the CEO of the PGA of America, which owns and manages the PGA Championship, and he got his chance on Wednesday at the PGA Merchandise Show. Not surprisingly, he pulled from his debate club past.

“I could argue May until I was blue in the face, but if you said argue August, I could argue August until I was blue in the face, those are the conversations we’ve had with our senior staff. We want to do what makes sense for the overall golf calendar, but we have to do what’s best for the PGA Championship,” Bevacqua said.

Bevacqua added that no decision on the future date of the PGA Championship has been made and that the conversation has been ongoing at PGA headquarters for the better part of four years.

The idea first surfaced when the PGA announced in 2014 that the ’20 championship would be played at San Francisco’s Harding Park.

Maybe the fact that then-Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was on hand for that announcement should have been a sign of things to come, but the PGA conceded that having the event at Harding Park would give them flexibility to move the championship around the calendar to avoid a conflict with that year’s Olympic Games in Japan.

Last year’s PGA Championship was played two weeks earlier than normal, in late July, to accommodate golf’s return to the Game’s in Rio, and it wasn’t ideal.

“We’re huge proponents of the Olympics, we believe it’s good for golf, but we also don’t want to see the PGA Championship getting bounced around every four years,” Bevacqua said. “We felt that at Baltusrol [site of the 2016 PGA], it took its toll on the championship.”

But the current conversation is about more than avoiding Olympic scheduling issues every four years. “It would be something we would do for the next 100 years,” Bevacqua said.

A permanent shift to May, along with The Players move back to March, would give the calendar a distinct flow, with “major” events every month from March through July’s Open. It would also give Monahan and the Tour the flexibility to end the season before Labor Day and mitigate head-to-head competition with the NFL and college football.

The Tour would benefit, no doubt, but would it be good for the PGA Championship?

Before the 2016 edition, the PGA had been played in August every year since 1971, when it was held in February at PGA National in South Florida. In the championship’s earliest days it hopscotched around the calendar, with stops in October (1928), November (1927), December (1929). But it has been its place as the anchor of the major championship season that has been the championship’s identity.

Even when the PGA gave up the tag line “Glory’s Last Shot” in 2013 in an odd give-and-take with the Tour, it was the championship’s cleanup spot in the lineup that defined it.

The Masters holds its status as the season’s first major played on the same iconic venue each year, the U.S. Open is always the game’s toughest test and The Open stands as the oldest championship. If the PGA Championship were to move to May what happens to the event’s persona?

A move to May would also likely change where the championship could be played. In 2023, for example, Oak Hill in Pittsford, N.Y., is scheduled to host the event. The average high for May in Pittsford is 66 degrees and the average low is 33 degrees. Not exactly the best conditions for growing grass.

In fact, four of the next seven venues for the PGA are northern stops, from Bellerive in St. Louis next year to Trump National in New Jersey in ’22. A May date could make many historic PGA stops agronomically undesirable.

“When you run a major championship it starts and ends with the quality of the golf course, it starts and ends with the quality of the competition,” Bevacqua said.

Bevacqua explained it’s not a single factor that could see the PGA move to a new spot on the calendar, but instead a collection of data points – from golf course availability to how a May vs. August date could impact TV viewing.

“What would it mean to the quality of the broadcast, what would be a more powerful timeframe to broadcast the PGA?” Bevacqua asked hypothetically.

Despite some media reports to the contrary, Bevacqua stressed that any potential change is far from assured at this point, before the old debate team captain diverted his approach to a vague middle ground which would indicate the PGA’s current thinking.

“The great news is we’re in a good spot,” Bevacqua said. “We don’t have to do anything, we can leave it in August, we can move to May.”